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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Signal your intentions

Failure to indicate one’s turning intentions via use of turn signals is a perpetual driver grievance.  But it isn’t just non-use that’s an issue.  Absent mindedly leaving them on is also unsafe, and rules of the road even specify certain improper use that is illegal.

As reader D.P. put it, “A day or two ago, on a half-hour drive around downtown Spokane, I came upon one driver who was signaling a left turn but went straight ahead when the light turned and another driver who was not signaling at all and then turned left when the light changed.”

Such false signals, or complete lack of them, adversely affect other drivers’ decision making.  D.P. made note of that, stating in his email, “Many drivers don’t seem to realize that people behind them are maneuvering through traffic based upon their turn signals (or lack of turn signals).”

Activating signals should be an automatic driver action.  Deactivating them in the rare cases that they don’t cancel themselves should also be a priority.  Beyond that, braking suddenly and unexplainedly, then signaling a turn, is the wrong order of events.  The proper sequence is to signal, THEN brake and turn.  This potential failure is even addressed in provision number 3 of state law.

Washington law (RCW 46.61.305), an example mirroring most states, provides information on when signals are required and how improper use is prohibited:

(1) No person shall turn a vehicle or move right or left upon a roadway unless and until such movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided.

(2) A signal of intention to turn or move right or left when required shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.

(3) No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle without first giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided herein to the driver of any vehicle immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give such signal.

(4) The signals shall not be flashed on one side only on a disabled vehicle, flashed as a courtesy or “do pass” signal to operators of other vehicles approaching from the rear, nor be flashed on one side only of a parked vehicle except as may be necessary for compliance with this section.

Many industry studies reveal that signal use failure is a primary cause of auto accidents.  Over 2 million U.S. wrecks are signal-related — more than the amount caused by distracted driving!  Signal failures often lead to rear-end collisions, resulting in fault being attributed to the follower even when there is contributory negligence from the lead vehicle not signaling intentions.

According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, nearly half of all drivers don’t signal to change lanes or fail to turn the indicator off when they do.  In an SAE survey, 42 percent of scofflaws said they “did not have the time,” and 23 percent admitted they “were just too lazy.”

Don’t be one of those lame-excuse makers. Proper signal use is one of the easiest driver actions to perform properly.  Simply activate the signal lever on the side corresponding with your intended turn at least 100 feet ahead of it and be sure it’s deactivated after the turn — we’ll all be safer as a result.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at